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Preventing Kitchen Fires

Blue flame on a stovetop burner

We’ve already discussed how to prevent fires while grilling outside. How about kitchen fires? For most of us, having to put out a fire in the kitchen is probably near the top of the things that we don’t ever want to have to do. The thought of something as destructive as a kitchen fire is scary. But that’s all the more reason why you should know how to prevent it. Or, in the worst-case scenario, how to put it out.

An Ounce of Prevention…

The best way to handle a fire, of course, is to not start one in the first place. Thankfully, there are many precautions you can adopt to avoid going down this road. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t leave items cooking on the stovetop unattended. The National Fire Protection Association reported in 2018 that unattended cooking was the most common cause of cooking fires and casualties. Furthermore, 63% of home cooking fires involved cooktops or ranges and one-third of the people who perished in cooking fires did so while sleeping.
  • Childproof your stove. And supervise your children when they are in and around the kitchen, especially toddlers. You can place childproof covers over your stove’s knobs to prevent curious small hands from inadvertently turning them on.
  • Look for items that could act as igniting agents. Oven mitts or kitchen towels, for example, could catch on fire if left too close to a burner. And dangling apron strings, as well as oversized sleeves, can potentially be hazardous as well.

Know the Different Kinds of Fires

Not all fires are the same. Although all fires require oxygen, heat, and a fuel source, fires will vary based on what their primary fuel source is. Knowing about the different types of fires will help you determine how best to fight them. Fires in the U.S. are divided into five classes:

  • Class A: Fires of this class are fueled by what are called “ordinary combustibles.” This could include paper, wood, and cloth, as well as rubber and plastics.
  • Class B: This type of fire is fueled by flammable gases and liquids (though this does not include kitchen grease or cooking oil—see Class K, below). Examples of source material for fires of this type include gases such as propane and butane, and liquids such as gasoline, solvents, alcohols, oils, and tar.
  • Class C: A fire falls into this category if it involves live electrical equipment such as motors, appliances, computers, servers, and transformers.
  • Class D: These fires involve combustible metals, primarily magnesium and titanium, but also lithium, zirconium, sodium, potassium, and some others. This class of fire is generally only going to occur in chemical labs and in industrial settings that work with these metals.
  • Class K: Fires in Class K are those that involve cooking oil, kitchen grease, and fats from animals and vegetables.

Different Classes of Fire Call for Different Fighting Methods

Since each of the fire classes has a different fuel, you can’t extinguish them in the same way. A method for putting out one type of fire won’t work on another type—indeed, using the wrong firefighting method may make the fire worse. A sufficient amount of water, with enough pressure, can put out a Class A fire. But you should never use water on a Class C fire or a Class K fire. Using water on an electrical fire could electrocute you. And putting water on a grease fire will cause it to spread.

Since many home fires are kitchen fires fueled by grease or cooking oil, let’s focus on how you can best extinguish this type of fire.

Putting Out a Grease Fire

If a grease fire breaks out in your kitchen and you catch it quickly enough, (meaning that it’s still small and just confined to a single pot, for instance), then you may be able to put it out before it begins to spread. How can you put out a small grease fire?

  1. Turn off the heat. Remember that fires need heat in order to continue burning. If you can remove this element from the equation, then you stand a better chance of preventing the spread of the fire. Don’t try to remove the pot itself from the stove, as you could burn or scald yourself doing this. You may also further spread the fire this way by spilling flaming oil in other parts of the house.
  2. Cover the pot. Starving the fire of oxygen, another one of the essential elements it needs to stay alive, can put it out. Make sure to use a metal lid or a metal cookie sheet. If you use an object made of glass or ceramic, the fire may cause it to shatter and explode, sending sharp fragments all over the kitchen. In addition, if you attempt to swat at the fire with a kitchen towel or some other piece of cloth, you will just end up fanning the flames, making the situation worse.
  3. Get a smothering agent. We can’t stress this enough: Don’t ever throw water on a grease fire. But, in addition, you shouldn’t toss a whole host of other things that might be kitchen-handy on it, expecting it to go out. Items like baking powder and flour are flammable and will make the fire worse. Smother it with baking soda, or, if that’s not available, salt.
  4. Grab a fire extinguisher. If these other methods have failed to put out the fire, use a fire extinguisher on it. You should resort to this only after trying the steps listed above because the fire extinguisher will leave behind residue that will require extensive cleanup. Make sure that you have the proper fire extinguisher for the job—it will be marked with the kinds of fires it is designed to effectively put out. (Commercial kitchens generally have Class K fire extinguishers. Those that are marked Class ABC should be able to handle small home-based kitchen fires.) The fire extinguisher will make a mess, but that’s obviously preferable to burning down the building. And if you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, educate yourself now! You don’t want to have to learn in the heat of the moment.

If the fire is taller than you are, then you won’t be able to put it out, even with a fire extinguisher. In that case, get out of the building and call 911. Let the professionals at the fire department put it out. Better safe than sorry, as always.

In Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ll never have to fight any kind of fire. But the power is in your hands! Don’t leave your cooking unattended, and don’t let children near a hot stove. If a grease fire breaks out, cut off its fuel source. Never throw water on it. Use a fire extinguisher on it when all other methods fail. If the fire spreads too much or too quickly, call 911.

Not all fires are the same. But for every fire, the best way to fight it is to prevent it from starting in the first place.